Well, the Eagles' playoff hopes are finally behind the team that everyone picked to win the Super Bowl this year. Even with a big win over the rival Cowboys last weekend, the Birds were eliminated from postseason contention as a result of the Jets failing to top the NFC East-leading Giants. With their aspirations gone, the Eagles are now focused solely on finishing a disappointing 2011 season on a positive note by winning their fourth straight, and they'll try to do so against one of the few clubs they've dominated this year--the division rival Washington Redskins, who have surprisingly not been pushovers as of late.
The Redskins have clearly been the worst team in the NFC East division this year, but it's not as if their rivals did much to distance themselves throughout the season. After starting 3-1, Washington looked like the prime candidate to capture the division title, but a subsequent collapse quickly pushed the 'Skins out of playoff contention, wiping out any momentum the team had gained early on. On defense, D.C. has flashed success with its dangerous pass rushing duo of Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, but overall been anything like the consistent unit it was supposed to be. On the other side of the ball, the Redskins have struggled to overcome their lack of a top-notch starter at quarterback, going back and forth between Rex Grossman and John Beck, while fighting off a slew of injuries and inconsistency at the running back and receiving corps.
The Eagles got their third consecutive win by blowing out the Cowboys last weekend, but they'll still likely face a tough challenge in the form of the Redskins this Saturday. The first time the rivals met this year, Philadelphia kicked off a two-game winning streak by playing sound defensive football, picking off Grossman four times and doing enough on offense to top Washington. This time around, the approach for the Eagles is likely to be similar; taking advantage of the Redskins' porous offense figures to be the Eagles' key to ending the 2011 season with their eighth win.
As Week 17's Eagles-Redskins game approaches, here are a few key questions and a game prediction:
Can the Eagles force turnovers against Rex Grossman? The first time the Eagles and Redskins met this year, Philadelphia dominated on defense thanks to four interceptions of Grossman, Washington's journeyman quarterback. This time around, strong safety Kurt Coleman, who was responsible for three of those turnovers, will be held out of the lineup because of a biceps injury, but forcing mistakes against Grossman could again wind up being the key to Philadelphia stepping up on the defensive side of the ball. Whether it means pressuring the Redskins via the defensive line or simply making plays in the secondary, creating turnovers and recording takeaways could be crucial to Sunday's matchup.
Will DeSean Jackson be able to break loose in the secondary? As odd as it may sound, Sunday's game may wind up being Jackson's final matchup as a member of the Eagles; the young wideout has been boggled by contract issues this year and is scheduled to become a free agent following the season. Even so, Jackson's speed and ability to break loose in the secondary could be an integral part of the team's offense against the Redskins. QB Michael Vick found Jackson for a deep score against the Dolphins a few weeks ago, but again vs. Washington, the former Pro-Bowl pass catcher could play a big role in the development of the club's passing game this weekend.
Can the Eagles slow down the Redskins' rushing attack? Despite the inconsistency of its offense, Washington has managed to make the most of its running backs this year. Early in the season, trade acquisition Tim Hightower powered forward as a promising starter, but was replaced with success by Ryan Torain upon getting hurt. Since then, rookies Roy Helu and Evan Royster have also been productive on the ground, battling through injuries and working their way up the depth chart with success. One of the Eagles' primary issues this season has been stopping the run, and while the linebacker corps has stepped up in recent weeks to slow down opposing teams' rushing attack, limiting Washington's ground game could come in handy, especially if the Eagles offense is unable to take advantage of the Redskins' own defense.
Game Prediction: The Eagles have nothing but pride to play for in this Week 17 rivalry game, but they've looked good over the last few weeks. It's a shame this dangerous bunch couldn't come together earlier, because it has the talent--and now the chemistry--to make a deep run in the playoffs. The Redskins will probably hang in for a while, but I have to go with the Birds in this one. Predicted score: Eagles 28, Redskins 10.